Tourism board wants hotel occupancy tax raised to 6 percent

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
The occupancy tax charged by local hotels could go from 3 percent to 6 percent, according to the Rowan County Tourism Development Authority.
The group voted unanimously Wednesday to ask county commissioners to support a change in legislation to allow the increase. The legislation that set up the Tourism Authority limits the tax charged for hotel stays at 3 percent.
Tourism officials viewed a map showing that all of the major hotel areas along the Interstate 85 corridor between the South Carolina line and Greensboro have a 6 percent tax now. Mecklenburg County has an 8 percent tax through special legislation.
James Meacham, executive director of the tourism group, ticked off the budgets that competing tourism authorities have to do marketing. They include $4 million for Cabarrus, $1.4 million for High Point and $650,000 for Mooresville.
Rowan’s current budget is around $300,000. Meacham said that severely limits the authority’s ability to compete for dollars from tourists taking either day trips or extended trips.
By increasing the tax to 6 percent, the authority could double its budget to $600,000.
“We’re missing the boat,” said Krista Osterweil, a Hampton Inn representative.
Osterweil said the tax rate is not an issue with tourists. “They expect to pay it … they don’t ask about the rate,” she said.
Michelle Patterson of Patterson Farms compared the county’s 3 percent rate and its limitations to going to a NASCAR race on a bicycle.
Other board members weighed in supporting the increase, with Raymond Coltrain adding an “Amen.” The new county commissioner was attending his first meeting of the board. he opted to abstain on voting on the tax-rate issue.
Chairman Dan Peters asked Meacham to prepare a presentation for county commissioners that will show how the authority would spend the increased revenue.
Meacham stressed the Tourism Authority would be in a position to take over funding some more tourism-related things that are currently being supported by local tax dollars. Among the possibilities he mentioned was funding the Rowan Museum.
If commissioners support the change, local legislation would be introduced in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Once passed, county commissioners would have final authority to set the tax rate up to 6 percent.
Members opted to bypass a proposal from Salisbury City Councilman Mark Lewis to seek a change in the charter that would allow up to one-third of the occupancy tax to go for capital projects.
“I’m not talking about a convention center or a conference center,” said Lewis, adding the city will not be looking to the tourism group’s funding if Salisbury opts to build a convention center.
Lewis cited potential uses for capital dollars, including signs to direct visitors in and around the county. Lewis said the N.C. Department of Transportation’s brown information signs are inadequate.
While there was some support for asking the county to change the charter, other members worried that combining the two issues could cause commissioners to turn down the occupancy tax issue.
Meacham appeared to agree, saying the original enabling legislation is good. He added, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Coltrain agreed, urging the board to go after the tax alone.
You may contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.